Like most people, I know I should be eating healthier, but I am genuinely confused about what a “healthy diet” consists of, much less how to prep healthy meals or what healthy tastes like! It’s no wonder, with so much noise and ambiguity from competing voices claiming to have THE healthy answer. Especially online, calm and considered health and nutrition advice can be hard to understand, while attention-grabbing “miracle diets” trend often.
It’s relieving when you find a real-deal nutrition expert whose content engages and motivates you to take action in your own life. Enter Monica D’Agostino, Registered Dietician and founder of Salt and Sage Nutrition based in Manhattan. In her work as a health coach and on social media, Monica delivers everyday advice to educate and inspire healthy choices—from weekly meal preps, recipes, and tips for cooking for one.
Speaking with Monica was a treat, and she validated my healthy (sorry) suspicion of many online health experts. Speaking over Zoom, Monica was effortlessly charming, and I had to stop myself from turning our interview into a health counseling session. That is to say, she obviously has experience with video counseling, and it’s no surprise her clients speak rave about her as a coach.
Before launching Salt and Sage full-time, Monica worked for years as a corporate dietician for Con Ed. While working her 9-5, she worked on making videos as a personal project. Dedicating considerable time to ensure her content was polished and professional, she was surprised to find that a quick video about making lemonade when you’re hungover went viral on TikTok.
Still, in her first year working full-time for herself as a Health Coach, Monica is hesitant to describe herself as an influencer, and I don’t blame her! As a highly trained expert, she is much more than an online personality. For Monica, though, it’s not about her credentials; she just doesn’t want to intimidate her clients with her celebrity. She says, “When I’m coaching clients, I’m just there for them. One-on-One. It’s totally different than my social media content, which is general tips and ideas.”
Monica’s signature style—equal parts authentic and authoritative—has resonated with her rapidly growing audience, now well over 500,000 followers. Her approachable and easy-to-follow recipes are great for anyone, especially young people learning how to, as Monica says, “Heal Your Health.” While her social media content reaches millions, her business, Salt and Sage Nutrition, offers individual, one-on-one Health Coaching and nutrition counseling.
Check out our conversation below for an inside look into the life of a Health Coach, how to spot a bogus Tik Tok diet, and some of the biggest misconceptions about Dietitians.
What is the story behind the name of your business, Salt and Sage?
It’s actually a funny story! I always knew that I wanted to start my own business, but Salt and Sage Nutrition just started as an Instagram page for me to share recipes with my friends and family. One of my best friends, Jess, bought me a candle for my birthday, and the scent was Sea Salt and Sage. I thought it was a cute name, so I threw ‘nutrition’ on the end and ran with it.
What is the difference between “Nutrition” and “dietetics?”
So nutrition is more of a blanket term for the actual process of humans obtaining nutrients and energy through food, and dietetics is the study of the science behind that process.
How much of your role as a health coach is helping your clients UN-learn what they THINK is true about being “healthy,” “diet,” and “nutrition”?
It has definitely become a larger part of my work, especially with social media and the misinformation that is consistently being spread regarding food and nutrition. My main goal when working with my clients is to educate them as much as possible about the science-based evidence regarding nutrition and how they can create an overall healthy eating pattern that fits their lifestyle. What it really comes down to is that everyone is different, and there is no one “right” way to lead a healthy lifestyle. It is all about what works for the individual and how they can create sustainable habits and patterns that serve them. When working with a dietitian, it is also important to find someone who you resonate with and who can work around your specific needs.
What is the biggest misconception people have about Dietitians?
Probably that we are judgmental about others’ food choices. I can’t tell you how often someone has found out that I am a dietitian and immediately followed it up with, “Oh, do NOT look at what I am eating right now!!”. We like to indulge, too, and I would never judge anyone for enjoying themselves. It’s healthy to incorporate foods that you love!
Often “diet” connotes restriction, but you often talk about creativity and expansion – how do you see the word “diet”?
I am pretty neutral towards the word “diet.” I think it often becomes associated with restriction because it describes more restrictive eating patterns (actual diets such as keto, paleo, etc.). But your “diet” really refers to the way YOU are approaching nutrition and your food habits on a day-to-day basis.
You mention the difference between “what” and “how” – I love that. Knowing “WHAT” to do and knowing “HOW” to do it are two completely different things. Can you expand on your role with clients as a health coach?
When working with clients, I get a chance to help them work through the “how.” Since every client is so different, it is essential to me to help them apply the actual information to their own lives to create sustainable habits for years to come. Often, people are looking for “quick fixes” when it comes to changing their lifestyles. I try to help my clients understand that making a lifestyle change is a process, and the small steps they take every day to be healthier are wins too!
There is lots of talk about metabolism, but what exactly is it?
So metabolism is essentially the process of your body converting food to energy. The energy produced allows your body to complete physiological processes (i.e., breathing, digestion, cell growth, blood flow, etc.). Your body uses this energy (calories) to keep all of these processes up and running. By eating nutrient-dense foods, following an eating schedule, and exercising, you increase your metabolism, aka increasing the number of calories your body is burning daily!
What are your opinions on “cheat meals?”
I do not like the term “cheat meal” because it gives that meal a negative connotation. If you are headed to your favorite restaurant on a Friday night and have been looking forward to the meal all week, you should just enjoy it! There is a way to make all of your favorite foods fit into an overall healthy eating pattern.
Can I ask you about some “diets” that have made headlines in the last few years
Research shows that, overall, diets do not work (no matter what diet type). They are proven unsustainable and can cause a slowed metabolism and weight gain over time due to their restrictive nature. The only “diet” that has been proven to positively impact health over time is the Mediterranean Diet (and this is more of an eating pattern rather than an actual diet). This eating pattern essentially focuses on incorporating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fat, and lean protein sources at mealtimes.
Have you worked with many men? Do you feel “diet” and “health” are perceived differently by men and women?
With my career’s direction, I mainly work with women, but I think that men and women have different approaches to nutrition and health. The most important part of making changes to your overall health and diet is finding something that works for you and your lifestyle. If you try to make unrealistic changes, you will never be able to create sustainability in your eating patterns and habits. With that being said, if you are looking to work with a Registered Dietitian, it is important to find someone who you mesh with and who is willing to work through any obstacles that you face when it comes to making changes.
What lessons or advice would you share with someone looking to start their own business? Is there anything you would say to avoid?
The biggest hurdle to get over in business is being comfortable with putting yourself out there. In the age of social media, it is easier than ever to grow brand awareness, so use that tool to your advantage. However, authenticity is always key. Showing up as yourself and understanding that people who want to work with you are always going to find their way to you. You can’t fake it in business (whether your concept is client-facing or not). Show up as you and be unapologetic about it.
What advice would you give to someone looking for a dietician? What red flags should people look out for?
Always make sure you are looking for someone with the Registered Dietitian title. This can be listed as “RD” or “RDN”. Someone who simply puts “nutritionist” in their bio does not necessarily have any sort of credentialing. If you are someone with a specific condition (diabetes, heart disease, disordered eating patterns, etc.), you can look for a dietitian who specializes in this specific area. Lastly, finding a dietitian can be a lot like finding a therapist! Do not get discouraged if you find that the first dietitian you work with is not a match. The most important thing is finding someone who you mesh with and who really takes the time to address your specific needs.